'Whirlwind' year culminates in Junior Wallabies captaincy for McReight

Oceanic U20s Championship
by Emma Greenwood

Just 12 months ago, Fraser McReight was returning from an ankle injury to pull on the Junior Wallabies jersey for the first time at the Oceania U20 championships on the Gold Coast.

Fast forward a year and McReight is back to lead the Junior Wallabies in the same tournament, with a wealth of knowledge and experience under his belt to help guide his side.

The workaholic flanker, who has three Super Rugby caps to his name as well as being judged Australia's U20 player of the year in 2018, can hardly believe the breakneck pace of the past year.

"It's a bit of a whirlwind to be honest, I did not expect any of that to happen," McReight said.

"Last year at this stage I was coming back from injury and luckily Gilly (junior Wallabies coach Jason Gilmore) put faith in me and my first game was at this tournament last year.

"So it was a bit of a whirlwind and to be here where I am today after last year and after having a good pre-season with the Reds and being lucky enough to get a (super Rugby) cap or two is awesome.

"So hopefully we can bring that back and (provide) a bit of experience for the boys and I can't wait."

Junior Wallabies captain for the Oceania U20 championships on the Gold Coast, Fraser McReight. Photo: Rugby AU Media/Luke Marsden

McReight is part of an experienced leadership group he said would all help provide guidance for the newer members of the team.

But he admitted to being chuffed with finding the "C" beside his name.

"Any chance you get to lead a side, let alone Australia, is a huge honour, so I can't wait to lead the boys out and do my family and friends and the country and the team proud," he said.

"There wasn't any expectation on me being captain, we have a great group of leaders in the team, but it is pretty special. It's something that I did want.

"And just to do it at home for the first time, I get my mum and dad and my family and friends to come down and watch and I think that's pretty special.

"I have some really good mates in this team that I get to play with, so it's a huge honour."

McReight is ready to lead his troops in Australia's tournament opener against Japan on Friday night in an event he believes will be the perfect warm-up for the U20 world championships in Argentina in June, with all of Australia's top young players available.

"We have 10 or 12 boys back from last year's World Cup as well as boys who are contracted (to Super Rugby sides), so they all come back and pass down the knowledge and experience to the boys who are coming through the ranks," he said.

Junior Wallabies captain for the Oceania U20 championships on the Gold Coast, Fraser McReight. Photo: Rugby AU Media/Luke Marsden 

"We're able to experiment and get those combinations working to see how the boys go.

"The coaches know combinations already, club , form, all this stuff combined.

"But the real goal is junior World Cup, so hopefully by the time we play New Zealand and move into our first game against Italy in June, our combinations are ticking and our form is really on the rise."

McReight is among several players in the team with Super Rugby experience.

And while his three caps for the Reds have come off the bench, it's the little things the no.7 has picked up on that he believes will make him a better player and leader.

"Even though I was on the field for less than 15 minutes for the whole three games, just being around the guys has meant a lot," McReight said.

"Scotty Higginbotham, Bryce Hegarty, all these boys that we've been surrounded by for the whole pre-season and those games, you familiarise yourself with their carry and the mannerisms.

"I think it's the small mannerisms that you pick up on that show how to lead."

The Oceania U20 championship kicks off at Bond University on the Gold Coast on Friday, April 26. New Zealand take on Fiji in the opening match from 5pm, with Australia playing Japan at 7pm.